Sunday, March 31, 2019

Red sand dunes of Namibia

We have come to Namibia to see the magnificent red sand dunes, and this is the day.
The sand takes on a red hue as the morning sun rises.
We leave Kulala Lodge, which is located on the edge of Namib-Naukturt National Park, early in the morning. Despite its remoteness, the more developed part of the Namib Desert, which includes the awesome dunescapes around Sossusvlei, are surprisingly accessible by aircraft or by road. From our camp’s location, we take a shortcut to access a private entrance into the park and arrive there before most of the crowds.

Sossusvlei comes from the native words sosses meaning “land of no return” and vlei meaning “dry place.” It’s an apt description of the place where the Namib desert’s dunes come together and prevent the Tsauchab River from flowing to the Atlantic Ocean. The result is a large salt-filled pan surrounded by enormous mountains of golden sand in the heart of the Namib.
For perspective on how high the dunes are,
notice the people climbing this dune.
As the sun begins to rise, the magic show begins, turning ordinary sand into a fiery spectacle. Dramatic shadows appear, with the scene constantly changing as the sun moves higher in the sky. Yellow and grey hues of the drab salt pan landscape contrast sharply with the fiery dunes, the highest of the desert. It’s a glorious scene featured on countless travel brochures and calendars, so expectations are high.

It does not disappoint.
Dawn and dusk provide the best opportunities for spectacular photography, and we didn’t let the morning light go to waste. We snapped photos of classically curved dunes from numerous angles. Every few minutes as we drove along there was another majestic dune to photograph.

We walk in footsteps before they are blown away by the wind.
After driving by the park’s first dune and seeing a full parking lot because many people had stopped there, we decide to go further and soon are rocking and rolling through the deep sand. Only four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed as it’s easy to get stuck in this terrain.
Arriving at the dune called Big Daddy, we choose an “arm” or extension to hike. About halfway up, the wind begins to blow hard, spraying sand on our cameras and stinging our faces. In single file we chug through the steep climb, balancing in our steps in the soft, moving sand.

Below the dune in the dry salt pan.
The key is to step in footprints left by another hiker. Getting off the path could mean getting stuck in the cavernous, quick-sand-like surface.  The problem is that these footprints disappear quickly in the strong wind. In fact, a sandy fog is created by wind at the top and subsequently hampers our view of stunning landscapes.
At the top of the dune, we remove our shoes and socks and step gingerly off the ridge onto the shadowy slip face, sinking to mid-calf in the warm, fluffy sand. Despite walking slowly (our guide is quite practiced and scampers down in a matter of minutes), at one point I falter and catch myself with the hand carrying my hiking boots, thus filling them with more sand.

Vegetation cannot survive in the harsh conditions of the salt pan.
At the bottom we find ourselves wandering around a portion of the huge salt pan. Any trees that had grown there are now merely ghostly branches. But we have a chance to look back up where we had been—a truly mesmerizing sight and a highlight of the day’s adventure. My bucket list just got shorter.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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